book club: parable of the sower and bitch planet

This week, my friend Anthony and I held another meeting (online) of our Best Friends International Book Club! I have so much fun reading and discussing books with him. Anthony put it sweetly in a comment on my Instagram:

You encourage me to think deeper and wider with each selection, and I love how this keeps us connected‚ÄĒwith each other and the world around us! ūüė欆[link]

That’s how I feel about him and our club!¬†It means a lot to me to stay connected to my beloved Kansas City family. And although we’re in different countries and drinking different beverages when we have our book club Skype dates, we actually¬†do stay on topic! Mostly!¬†We keep it loose as far as timing our meetings go; we chat when we’re both done with the books and when we’re available.

First, we read Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. It was the first Butler book for either of us. In 2025, society is descending into a chaotic collapse. Headstrong teenager Lauren’s family is killed and her home is destroyed, so she and a few neighbors journey north to a rumored safe haven. Along the way they encounter dangers and new people, and Lauren reveals her plans for a new religion. Lauren also has a condition called “hyperempathy,” which allows her to physically feel the pain of others. I was struck by how prescient and insightful Butler was in her description of this near-future America: privatization, climate change, gender and race issues, religion, the opioid crisis, and more. It’s an important addition to the science fiction genre for these reasons, plus being written by a woman of color. Unfortunately, the book didn’t entirely live up to the hype and rave reviews for me. The religion aspect turned me off, as did the hyperempathy. I always have trouble with epistolary novels, too‚ÄĒSower is basically Lauren’s diary. I’d rather be¬†shown the action than be told about it after the fact. I think this may actually be a YA book, too, which are usually hard for me to get into. I was interested in the¬†The Road-like journey the crew takes north, though. I wonder if I would have liked¬†Sower better if the religion and hyperempathy had been cut? These parts bothered Anthony less, but overall he felt the same. We decided this first book in Butler’s Earthseed series was enough for us. But! I’m not writing off Butler entirely; I’m looking forward to reading¬†Kindred one day.¬†[Read ebook in May 2017.]

Bitch Planet, Book One¬†by DeConnick and De Landro was our second pick for this discussion. In another near-future dystopia, if women don’t comply with the behavioral and beauty expectations placed upon them by the patriarchal leadership, they are arrested and sent away from Earth to a prison planet. The plot (so far) involves the “non-compliant” women being forced to compete in an all-male game called Megaton in order to “spice up” the event, and there’s corruption in the government and prison, etc. I love how in-your-face this graphic novel is, and how the women are non-apologetic and kick-ass. I’m really interested in seeing where this is going. I do wish there was more backstory, and I felt it drag when the focus shifted to men on Earth just talking about Bitch Planet. Otherwise, I think Bitch Planet has a great premise and is an excellent, creative way to get readers thinking and talking about intersectional feminism,¬†the prison industrial complex, sexism, societal expectations of women, and more. Anthony felt the same way, so we chose Bitch Planet, Book Two for our next discussion. He also mentioned the best part: the hilarious fake ads at the end of each issue!¬†[Read in May 2017.]

Our next choices for BFIBC are¬†Bitch Planet, Book Two,¬†Michelle Alexander’s¬†The New Jim Crow, and Chris Hayes’s¬†A Colony in a Nation. I’m excited!

life’s work

I learned about Life’s Work by Dr. Willie Parker from Lizz Winstead’s excellent podcast Repro Madness, produced by women’s health and abortion advocate group¬†Lady Parts Justice.¬†Edited from Goodreads:

In Life’s Work, an outspoken, Christian reproductive justice advocate and abortion provider (one of the few doctors to provide such services to women in Mississippi and Alabama) pulls from his personal and professional journeys as well as the scientific training he received as a doctor to reveal how he came to believe, unequivocally, that helping women in need, without judgment, is precisely the Christian thing to do.

I was blown away by Dr. Parker’s rational take on why abortion does not contradict with Christian values. I appreciate that he acknowledges he was not always a proponent of choice, detailing out how his view changed through his upbringing in the poverty-stricken South, and his education and experience in the medical field coupled with a deeper examination of his faith. I have frequently questioned tenants of Catholicism, the religion in which I was raised (and made it through all the rites except marriage‚ÄĒthat was in the courthouse for me), so of course hearing the account of a pro-choice Christian piqued my interest.¬†Life’s Work is fairly short and I admit I’m already pro-choice, so I’m predisposed to like this book and agree with a pro-choice viewpoint, but I still learned things from Dr. Parker, like the ulterior motives of elderly, right-wing white men bringing legislation down to try to ban abortion entirely. Obviously they twist Christian beliefs to try to achieve this, claiming it’s about “saving unborn children,” when really it’s about resistance to (our wonderfully inevitable) future racial and cultural diversity.

I hope that people of all different ideological outlooks and faiths read¬†Life’s Work. It’s an eloquent, though-provoking, brave memoir that I highly recommend.

Listened to audiobook in May 2017.

reading recap: may 2017

I read 13 books in May! Even though several were short and several were on audio, this might be a personal record for me. I also already hit 50 books (currently sitting at 51)! I can’t believe it. I guess this is what happens when you listen to audiobooks all day while you draw.

  • The Hearts of Men (audio) ‚Ķ Nickolas Butler, read by Adam Verner
  • Frankenstein (audio) ‚Ķ Mary Shelley, read by various
  • The Leavers (audio) ‚Ķ Lisa Ko, read by Emily Woo Zeller
  • The Road to Jonestown (audio) ‚Ķ Jeff Guinn, read by George Newbern
  • What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (ebook) ‚Ķ Lesley Nneka Arimah
  • There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonc√© (ebook) ‚Ķ Morgan Parker
  • The Teacher Wars ‚Ķ Dana Goldstein
  • Men Without Women: Stories (audio) ‚Ķ Haruki Murakami, read by various
  • Life‚Äôs Work¬†(audio) ‚Ķ Dr. Willie Parker, read by Caz Harleaux
  • The Radium Girls (audio) … Kate Moore, read by Angela Brazil
  • Drinking: A Love Story (ebook) ‚Ķ Caroline Knapp
  • Parable of the Sower (ebook) ‚Ķ Octavia E. Butler
  • Bitch Planet, Book One ‚Ķ Kelly Sue DeConnick with Valentine De Landro

My favorites for the month, as usual, were the non-fictions:¬†The Road to Jonestown,¬†The Teacher Wars,¬†Life’s Work,¬†The Radium Girls, and¬†Drinking: A Love Story. I was fascinated by¬†Jonestown and¬†Radium, while¬†Teacher Wars and¬†Life’s Work are important pieces to understanding where we are on¬†the topics of education and abortion today. Drinking was personal and raw, and made me think more deeply about my own use and relationship with alcohol.

Of the fictions, The Hearts of Men and What It Means When A Man Falls from the Sky really stand out to me, as well as a few stories from Men Without Women. Parable of the Sower and Bitch Planet were recent picks for my international book club with my friend Anthony, and it was so great to read these along with him.

This last month I made a detailed plan for catching up on book posts here. I want to write a little bit about everything and I WILL get to it all! I’m traveling for several weeks in June and July, so I’m not sure how many posts I can write up and schedule ahead, but I’ll try my best to keep this space active a bit while I’m away.

I’m currently listening to¬†Going Clear on audio, the expos√© on Scientology that came out a few years ago, and it’s riveting so far. I also recently purchased¬†Van Gogh’s Ear and Pachinko, which I’ve had my eye on for weeks! I also would like to pick up Chris Haye’s A Colony in a Nation and Roxane Gay’s new one, Hunger, while I’m on the road this summer.¬†What are you planning for summer reading?
monthly recap image

mini-reviews: celebrity food memoirs

Food is one of my favorite things on earth‚ÄĒI love eating, cooking, trying new cuisines and restaurants, and learning about other cultures through food. Aside from experiencing my own culinary adventures, I usually can’t resist a good Michael Pollan book or memoir by a celebrated chef. Last year, I read¬†to two such books by famous personalities in food and cooking:

I’ve been a fan of Padma Lakshmi from her hosting gig on¬†Top Chef for years. She’s poised but has a sense of humor and shows knowledge of food as a judge. I also have one of her cookbooks,¬†Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet. I listened to her recent memoir¬†Love, Loss, and What We Ate¬†on audiobook (read by Lakshmi). I really liked the parts about her childhood between India and¬†the United States, as well as her career trajectory from model to TV show host to author. She also talks at length about having endometriosis, her romantic relationships, and becoming a parent. At times she is too self-pitying for her level of wealth and fame, but overall this is an enjoyable, light celebrity memoir.¬†[Listened to audiobook¬†in May 2016.]

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson has been on my radar for a few years now. Samuelsson has a fascinating background, starting with overcoming tuberculosis as a child Ethiopia and adopted in Sweden. I enjoyed learning about his upbringing, and how his race, heritage, and family shaped his love for food and development as a chef. However… I didn’t connect with Samuelsson on a personal level at all. I understand that you have to have a certain degree of¬†self-centeredness, arrogance, and uber-confidence one has to have¬†to succeed on the world stage (whether it’s as a renowned chef, famous musician, or whatever), but¬†his relationships (as an adult) with his adoptive family and daughter‚ÄĒwhile I can appreciate his honesty and recognize that no one is perfect‚ÄĒare rather off-putting. It was a decent¬†book, though, if you’re interested in celebrity chef memoirs. [Listened to audiobook¬†in September 2016.]

mini-reviews: underground girls, thousand splendid suns

Catching up on posting book reviews from what I read last year has been a lot of fun so far! Next on my list was The Underground Girls of Kabul, which I realized is a great companion piece to a book I just recently finished, A Thousand Splendid Suns. I learned a lot from both of these excellent books.

I listened to Jenny Nordberg’s¬†The Underground Girls of Kabul on¬†audio about a year ago on a road trip and found it riveting. Like many Americans, I’m sure, I had no idea about the practice of¬†bacha posh, disguising¬†daughters as¬†sons because boys are more valued,¬†in Afghanistan. Honestly I didn’t know much about Afghanistan culture in general before encountering¬†this book. Nordberg profiles a handful of bacha posh¬†women and girls, and how it has shaped their lives both personally and professionally. It is a fascinating account of gender norms as they relate to culture and society, as well as perceptions of temperament and opportunities (or lack thereof) in Afghanistan.¬†The book also examines the complexities of¬†gender identity and its value in global and historical contexts. It was a really worthwhile read I wholly recommend.¬†[Listened to audiobook¬†in March¬†2016.]

A Thousand Splendid Suns¬†by Khaled Hosseini¬†had been on my TBR for about five years! Splendid Suns is the story of two women, Miriam and Laila, whose lives intertwine when they become married to the same man‚ÄĒMiriam first and Laila, fifteen years younger than Miriam, a couple decades later.¬†Hosseini’s writing positively aches; I felt so deeply for these women and the hardships they endured throughout their lives. Much like Underground Girls,¬†Splendid Suns bring¬†readers inside daily lives of women¬†living in Afghanistan with its political unrest and societal rules. I wish the characters had been more fully realized (three-dimensional), and some of the “history lessons” peppered throughout were somewhat clunky, but overall it’s a heartrending story that deserves its enduring popularity.¬†[Listened to audiobook¬†in April¬†2017.]

an untamed state

After reading Bad Feminist¬†and seeing this one all over “best of” lists last year, I knew I had to read¬†Roxane Gay’s¬†An Untamed State.¬†From Goodreads:

Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port-au-Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents.

What a powerful, harrowing book. The brutal violence¬†during Miri’s captivity took my breath away‚ÄĒit reads like a bona fide thriller. Scenes flashing back to Miri’s childhood and marriage are interspersed throughout the first part, letting the reader get to know all the players better and Miri’s mindset before her 13-day ordeal began. (That’s one shining light for the reader‚ÄĒyou know she will be freed after 13 days. Miri does not, though.) The second half of the book covers the aftermath of the event‚ÄĒMiri’s fragile, volatile mental and emotional health as a result of the¬†physical and psychological trauma she endured. Not only Miri suffers during and after her kidnapping, her family does as well. They all have to reconcile with what happened to her and find a “new normal” somehow.

I do believe An Untamed State lives up to the hype‚ÄĒit makes a mighty impression and is not a story you’ll soon forget. However, for me personally, I¬†found the characters to be generally unlikable. I don’t need all my protagonists in entertainment to be likable, I just got the impression we’re supposed to like Miri and her husband. They’re¬†supposed to be great star-crossed soulmates or something, but¬†their overall mutual unkindness to each other and immaturity was unappealing to me. I think I would have liked more insight into the socioeconomic, political, and cultural context within this story‚ÄĒMiri’s privilege over her captors and Haitians living in abject poverty is mentioned but not discussed in depth.

An Untamed State delves deep into the¬†very real issue of rape and violence against women that are rampant in societies all over the world. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so¬†thoughtfully bold on the subject. The sheer terror and fear Miri felt, both during and after her kidnapping, were palpable. Gay doesn’t hold back on the shocking sexual and physical atrocities committed on Miri, which may be more than some readers can stomach, but sticking through the whole book is worth it.

Read from August 7 to 23, 2015.